Is College Worth It?
By Jay Leonardi
Posted on May 1, 2017 at 2:00 PM
As college costs soar, more people are asking a tough question: is college worth it? Here’s the answer: Yes! (and No). College is still the best path to those hot jobs and career success, if you make the right decisions every step of the way. But make the wrong decisions, and your college years will haunt you for decades.
How much will this really cost?
Over the past 10 years, the average rate of inflation for a college education has been running around 5% per year. That doesn’t sound bad. In fact, it almost sounds like a bargain. That is, until you do the math. Let’s say you have an older friend who started college in 2007 at a cost of $17,000 including tuition, room and board. Over four years (without inflation) that comes to $68,000, which mean your friend is facing monthly payments of $570 per month for the next 15 years. Ouch. But wait, it gets worse. Fast forward to today. With a 5% inflation rate, that tuition, room and board is now around $26,700 per year or $106,800 over 4 years. That means you’re facing monthly payments of $901 per month for the next 15 years. Double ouch.
Now for the good (and bad) news
The good (and bad) news about the cost of college is that the government is here to help. If you just got nervous, you’re not alone. The good news is that the U.S. government has made student loans more available than ever. In fact, with the help of tax dollars, the amount of “help” from the government has become almost inexhaustible. The bad news is that all of that money chasing the same number of colleges has caused the price of college to soar.
More good and bad news. The good news is that student loans are now easy to get. It’s pretty much, “how much do you need and sign here.” The bad news, and the part they gloss over, is that all that money has to be repaid, with interest. In other words, you’ll be making payments for years and years and years.
The final good and bad news. The good news is that the colleges in the U.S. are bringing in money, in the form of checks from the government, almost faster than they can spend it. The bad news is that all that money isn’t really coming from the government, it’s coming from you, in the form of future monthly payments.
College money for free
The first step in making college worth it is to find free money that doesn’t have to be repaid. You can begin with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) Once complete, FAFSA can provide two forms of college money for free, grants, which are typically based on student need, and scholarships, which are based on achievement, merit or organizational membership. This free money reduces the amount of loans you’ll need to repay. Of course, attending an in-state school, with its deeply-discounted tuition, is often just another form of money for free.
College is worth it when college majors are worth it
Let’s face facts. We live in a market-based economy. And it’s just a fact that some skills and knowledge are more valuable and highly compensated than others. You want to get a Master’s degree in Social Work? That’s fine, but don’t expect a high return on investment for your college degree. It’s just a fact that you will have an expensive college degree in a relatively low-paying field. If your objective is to spend your life providing for others, this is a positive option. If your objective is to spend your life providing for yourself and your family, you might want to have second thoughts.
College is worth it when careers are worth it
College is about more than getting a college degree, it’s more than your best career or your ultimate dream job. It’s about Return on Investment of both time and money. Remember that the value of your college major is directly proportional to the value of your career. It’s easy to believe that all majors lead to careers that pay about the same, but the difference can actually run into the millions of dollars over your lifetime.
At JobQuiz, we created a calculation that evaluates careers based on Return on Educational Investment. It shows the relative return on investment of an education beyond high school. In other words, this calculation shows if all that schooling is worth it. For jobs requiring only a high school education, we score each job based on a percentage of median high school career earnings. This calculation considers likely earnings at various stages of your career, the educational cost of various degrees, and the time required for your education.
First, let’s begin with careers with the lowest return on educational investment, in alphabetical order:
- Animal Care and Service Workers
- Announcer, TV and Radio
- Bank Teller
- Barbers and Cosmetologists
- Child care workers
- Data entry clerk
- Home health aides
- Landscaping workers
- Musicians and Singers
- Nursing aide
- Park ranger
- Shipping and receiving clerks
- Teacher Assistant
Second, let’s review careers with an average ROI.
- Anthropologist and archeologists
- Conservation scientist
- Cost estimator
- Cruise Director
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
- Electrical engineering technicians
- Instructional coordinator
- Line installer and repairers
- Loan officer
- Marine biologist
- Market research analyst
- Police officer
- Radiologic technologists
- Respiratory therapists
- Zoologist and wildlife biologist
- Advertising promotions manager
- Aerospace engineer
- Air traffic controller
- Computer hardware engineer
- Computer scientist
- Financial Managers
- Human resources managers
- Marketing managers
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Petroleum engineer
- Physicians and surgeons
- Sales manager
Bottom line: Reduce loans that must be repaid, choose an in-state college, and choose the major and career with the highest Educational Return on Investment. Do those things, and yes, college is worth it.
We hope you enjoyed this JobQuiz article! To learn more about your future career, be sure to take our Career Test. It takes about 12 minutes, evaluates hundreds of career possibilities, and allows you to discover your perfect career.